Alabama is nowhere near as famous for churning out brilliant musicians as its neighbor Mississippi. It’s well known that the Mississippi Delta Blues formed under a repressive social structure & horribly oppressive conditions. This Delta Blues was famous for its great talent but also its deep pathos, and its Alabama brethren seems to reflect an even more tortured, oppressed soul. There’s also a one-of-a-kind eccentricity to this music that reflects a world of both isolation & the influence of traveling medicine shows & tent revivals. Jaybird Coleman’s and The Two Poor Boys’ styles can’t really be compared to anyone else’s.
The most famous of these pre-war Alabama Blues musicians is probably Jaybird Coleman, who sang & played the harmonica with an extremely deep pain & sense of urgency. His spirituals were especially powerful. The guy’s playing reflected a soul that had no other options left other than to sing & wail through his harp. As Soul music had Deep Soul, a style of long drawn out sad singing, Jaybird Coleman had the Deep Blues.
George “Bullet” Williams has the same setup (one voice, one harmonica), and his sound is more full throttle, high lung capacity, crazed Blues. He does a spastic, noisy, exceptional train imitation here (“Frisco Leaving Birmingham”), complete with some vocal wails & howls. This spastic harmonica rhythm clearly shows you what was to come in American music. You can hear the Rhythm & Blues forming in this simple harmonica recording. Compare this to the playing Papa Lightfoot and it ain’t all that different.
The Two Poor Boys’ sang the Blues in unified harmony, while pickin’ the mandolin & guitar in a style that is more associated with Country music. This duo is especially unique, creating a style that is either archaic or simply one of a kind, most likely a little bit of both. The group is well known for its excellent version of “Two White Horses In A Line”, aka “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean” (made famous by Blind Lemon Jefferson).
Whistlin’ Pete & Daddy Stovepipe sing a bizarre Rag Guitar / whistlin’ Blues harmony that is similar to the medicine show inspired strangeness of Daddy Stovepipe’s other work. This music sounds like it came out of many years of performing on the streets.
The styles of Barefoot Bill & Ed Bell are more akin to the Mississippi Delta Blues recordings of the 1920’s, showcasing some marvelous guitar playing with deep blues singing.
Alabama Country Blues 1927/31 (Origin Jazz Library, 1967) is available here at Folk Arts for $20. That’s a deal, kid.